Pure ’girl power’

By Mikkel Carl

The other day I went out of my way to explain to my wife what ‘glass ceiling’ means. In Danish it sounds almost like ‘glasnost,’ and this led to a bit of a misunderstanding, perhaps because she became politically aware under the eighties’ threat of nuclear holocaust, while also studying Russian in college. Or perhaps it was because she never succumbed to anything of the sort. You see, as a writer, she is one of the foremost representatives of the nineties generation; a grouping within Danish literature highly dominated by women, or “female writers” as they are still often referred to. The situation is so “bad” that the daily newspaper Politikken deems it fit to continually chastise those apparently all too successful women now turning 50. Every time the Danish Arts Foundation announce their yearly work grants, surely you’ll find listings of who got how much then and now. Is the reason for this a misogynist tendency, barely concealed envy, or a penance for previous sins?

Installation by Stine Deja, Annka Kultys, London. Code Art Fair 2017. Photo by I DO ART Agency

Within visual arts, the gender distribution – in reverse order – is also the subject of more or less well-documented conspiracy theories regarding museum acquisitions and the allocation of public funds. More than a few make a case for affirmative action, as it is well-known in Sweden: the late “humanistic superpower,” where the glass is always half empty. No matter the sample they insist upon an even 50/50 split amounting to a kind of communistic moralism, where it is neither about individual happiness nor equal opportunities, but solely about soothing a moral hangover from generations of being in the red. Personally, I find it very hard to see the upside had those “female writers” been hamstrung during the nineties and noughties to make room for their apparently weaker if not less talented male peers. But I guess in that case the rule wouldn’t apply?

Just to be clear, the question is not whether it is problematic that men are overrepresented when it comes to the museum and gallery shows (the equivalent of corporate top positions and seats on the board) because it obviously is. But how do we make it right without sacrificing the free rein of artistic research? When speaking of “the good, the true and the beautiful,” I believe “the good” should be the lesser evil, and this particularly applies with relation to so-called political art.

Head of Code Art Fair, Julie Leopold Alf

However, there is good news to all declared feminists, as well as to the rest of us, at least when it comes to Code Art Fair, which will take place in Bella Center in late August. Having had mainly male members of the curatorial board, including yours truly, this time the table is set (pun indented) quite differently. It is, using a nineties expression that no longer seems to fly, pure ‘girl power.

Again this year the fair director is Julie Leopold Alf, who makes the overall decisions as well as handles budget, booth rental, etc. If it didn’t sound condescending, especially in this context, I would call her an “energizer bunny” overcoming almost every obstacle with profound professionalism, and always in high spirits. Her dream team consists of Caroline Bøge, Irene Campolmi, and Saskia Draxler. Yes, you heard me: Four women, including two foreigners organizing an international art fair in Denmark. That ought to be the headline of various culture & wellness supplements in the weekend papers.

About a year ago Caroline Bøge started out as a freelance art advisor, and before that, she was gallery manager at Nils Stærk, one of Denmark’s rare international galleries. The latter reflects in the list of exhibiting galleries, which makes wanderlust imminent. I mean, Perrotin has branches in Paris, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and Tokyo…

Irene Campolmi og Michael Thouber, Code Art Talks. Code Art Fair 2017. Photo by I DO ART Agency

Like something out of the ordinary within a Danish context, Saskia Draxler from Nagel/Draxler based in Cologne and Berlin is ‘fourth wheel.’ When compared to Susanne Ottesen – this being said with all due respect as I’m personally a huge fan of this one “female” gallerist – commercially Draxler is next level: Art Basel and what have you. Together these four women – truth be told, Max Bossier from Larry’s List came in late to fill a position as VIP Relations Manager and executive director is Kristian W. Andersen – is trying to also take Code Art Fair to the next level. Last year went well, but the fair still suffered from “teething troubles” (I won’t say a word about parental leave), so I take it, I’m not the only one super excited about the upshot of all their hard work. As a member of the Danish Arts Foundation’s Committee of Visual Arts Grants Funding, as it has so elegantly been put, I have previously been short of (upcoming) female artists at both Art Herning, Chart, and Code, but hopefully, the gender distribution within the curatorial team will have a trickle-down-effect. From a purely economic point of view, it might seem that I look at things the wrong around, but I honestly think it will pay off in the long run. To me, it’s a matter of creating equal opportunities, and having your work presented in an art fair context is simply that and nothing more: An opportunity with no (government) guarantees given.

Paintings by Ursula Reuter Christiansen and sculpture by Kirsten Justesen, Sabsay, Copenhagen. Code Art Fair 2017. Photo by I DO ART Agency

About Mikkel Carl
Mikkel Carl is somewhat of an art-world multitasker. Besides making and exhibiting his own artworks internationally, he also serves on boards and committees including the Danish Arts Foundation’s Committee of Visual Arts Grants Funding, and works as an independent curator at galleries and institutions around the world. One thing seems to connect his activities: the relationship between language and perceptual experience in the field of art.